Magazine article The Spectator

Counting Fewer and Fewer Blessings

Magazine article The Spectator

Counting Fewer and Fewer Blessings

Article excerpt

LATE YOUTH : AN ANTHOLOGY CELEBRATING THE JOYS OF BEING OVER FIFTY edited by Susanna Johnston Arcadia, £12, pp.270, ISBN 1900850966 . £9.60 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

THE LONG HISTORY OF OLD AGE edited by Pat Thane Thames & Hudson, £25, pp. 320, ISBN 6500251266 . £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

One of these anthologies (Late Youth) is small and sprightly, with a pretty, jaunty cover depicting one cheery old person cavorting on a pony and a second catching a fish. The other (The Long History) is large and substantial and uses a detail from an 18thcentury self-portrait by Jean Etienne Liotard on its glossy, coffee-tableworthy jacket: the painter, gaptoothed, with straggling grey hair and a maniacal grin on his wrinked face points mockingly at his canvas with a skinny finger.

The former collection is light, gossipy, upbeat, based on a well-heeled, wellconnected circle of friends and relations mostly aged between 60 and 80. The latter is solemnly academic and surveys the aging process from the ancient world to the present. Both try, with mixed success, to sound an encouraging note.

Susanna Johnston, whose brother, Alexander Chancellor, is a former editor of this magazine, has evidently put the hard word on her family and friends in support of a good cause -- this book aims to raise money for the Publishers' Benevolent Society. Her contributors include three Chancellors in all, a good few writers (John Julius Norwich, Selina Hastings, Jilly Cooper, Isabel Colegate, Francis King, Elizabeth Jane Howard), journalists (Peregrine Worsthorne, Maureen Cleave), painters (Jeffrey Smart, Maggi Hambling) and an actor or two (Dame Edna, who reminds us that her own favourite charity is Friends of the Prostate). All of them have led successful and energetic lives and do not intend to fade quietly into obscurity if they can help it.

None of them, of course, admits to feeling old inside. Many of them offer tips: Jonathan Guinness swears by yoga, Jilly Cooper (declining to give up the habit of a lifetime by becoming an Old Age Pun-shunner) advises not listening to 'alarmist claptrap', Mary Keen has taken up surfing and finds five hours in the sea wonderfully invigorating, and Angela Huth has learned to tap-dance. …

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